Julianna Margulies: Good Wife, Great Life

When she turned down $27 million to stay with ER, the world thought she was nuts. But after a rocky few years, Julianna Margulies now has a brilliant series, a family after 40 and a confidence she’s never known before 

by Johanna Schneller
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Photograph: Alexei Hay

Margulies has had a lot of practice handling such responses. Ever since the first episode, with its iconic image of Alicia standing next to her man during his public mea culpa, women have been telling her their opinions and spilling their secrets. One flight attendant ended up plopping down beside Margulies and sobbing on her shoulder about her own cheating spouse for an entire six-hour trip.

Back on the hotel sofa, Margulies says, “What I love about this character is there are so many points of entry. People relate to everything, from her putting her career on hold for 13 years to being a working mother, to having a husband who’s cheating, to having an affair of her own, to having a daughter who gives her grief for drinking a glass of wine.” She laughs. “But I’ve always had that kind of face. Even in high school, I was the girl people told their problems to.”

One reaction did shock her. “A guy wrote in, ‘Why don’t you call this show The Good Slut?’ ” Margulies says, pursing those lips. After everything Alicia’s husband did, “this man calls her a slut. What’s amazing to me is that in 2012 we have such judgment on the woman having an affair. Especially this poor woman, who really had her head in the sand for years. I was so happy when she got together with Will, even for just a little sexual liberation. Because she needed to feel wanted and sexy and loved again.”

Margulies had long been fascinated by the press conference presence of wronged wives such as Silda Spitzer and Dina McGreevey. “I remember thinking, Get off the stage!” she says. “I couldn’t believe the women were gullible enough to get up there, and I couldn’t believe that the men could be such assholes as to ask.”

But when considering what she would do if her own husband cheated, Margulies grows thoughtful. “It’s happened to friends of mine,” she says carefully. “I’ve seen marriages dissolve, and I’ve seen one marriage make it—with a lot of hard work. I don’t know if I could do it, because I think I’d be playing [the betrayal] in my head the whole time. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to be fully present, and I don’t want to live that way. But you have to figure out what’s best for you. Maybe the Spitzers and the Clintons already had an arrangement, and quite frankly I don’t care. There are some things where you go, ‘It’s none of your business.’ I think the most crippling thing of all is judgment.”

Before signing on to The Good Wife, Margulies had one requirement: It had to shoot in New York. Her extended family lives there, and she was adamant about raising her son in the city. The Kings conceded, though their writers’ room is in Los Angeles. “We wanted somebody with dramatic chops but also good comic timing, because we knew without a sense of humor the character would sink into earnestness,” Michelle King says. “Julianna has done so much to bring Alicia to life. She and the character are so completely enmeshed, it’s hard to tell what came from whom.”

“It’s amazing what Jules can do just with her eyes,” adds Charles. “She conveys so much emotion with just a look. She would have been a fantastic silent-film actor.”

On set, Margulies is ready for anything—including a surprise from Charles, who one day dressed for a fantasy sequence in leopard-print underwear. “I dropped trou, and Jules burst out laughing,” he says. “We’re of the same mind, that sex scenes can be uncomfortable, so the more you laugh, the more you can relax, and the better your work.”

As the show has progressed, Margulies has had to relax aplenty. Season three offered an urgent sex scene that involved a mostly clothed Will and Alicia pressed against a wall. Season two included what was probably a network first: a heroine receiving oral sex from her husband. So, Ms. Margulies—what was that like to play?

First published in the April 2012 issue of More

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Juliana says, "I'm not going to blank out my face...". She doesn't need to. More Magazine does it for her. As usual, Photoshop overkill.

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